Happy anniversary, Citizens United: May free speech still ring free across the land

Ten years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the free speech portion of the First Amendment, declaring in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that a federal law prohibiting people from spending their own money to make their political opinions and desires known could not pass constitutional muster. The decision has been under constant attack by Democrats ever since.

The 5-4 Citizens United ruling overturned a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law under which the FEC barred the airing of a movie produced by Citizens United that was critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary.

In Citizens United, the late Justice Antonin Scalia succinctly wrote: “The (First) Amendment is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals — and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion. We are therefore simply left with the question whether the speech at issue in this case is ‘speech’ covered by the First Amendment. No one says otherwise. A documentary film critical of a potential Presidential candidate is core political speech, and its nature as such does not change simply because it was funded by a corporation. Nor does the character of that funding produce any reduction whatever in the ‘inherent worth of the speech’ and ‘its capacity for informing the public,’ … Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy.”

But Democrats have wheeled out a proposal to amend the Bill of Rights to exclude certain free speech because it is paid for by people with money. It is wrongly called the Democracy for All Amendment.

Every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate — including Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen — has signed on as sponsors of the proposed amendment, which would allow Congress and the states to “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

Sen. Cortez Masto put out a press release this past summer saying the amendment is intended to get big money out of politics. “Citizens United opened the floodgates for big money in politics by wrongly allowing corporations and special interests to buy undue influence in American elections,” Nevada’s senior senator wrote. “It’s time the effects of this disastrous ruling were reversed. A constitutional amendment putting the democratic process back in the hands of voters will help ensure that our government represents the will of Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

Pay no attention to the fact spending alone does not necessarily determine the outcome of an election. President Trump was outspent two-to-one by the aforementioned Hillary Clinton.

Sen. Rosen has long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United. During her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller, she declared, “Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system. Unlike Senator Heller, I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”

Ironically, the amendment concludes by stating, “Nothing in this article shall be construed to grant Congress or the States the power to abridge the freedom of the press.’’

Who do they think owns the “press” in the United States? Billionaires and corporations that’s who.

In fact, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, singled out the media exemption that was written into McCain-Feingold. Kennedy wrote, “The media exemption discloses further difficulties with the law now under consideration. There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not. ‘We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers.’ … And the exemption results in a further, separate reason for finding this law invalid: Again by its own terms, the law exempts some corporations but covers others, even though both have the need or the motive to communicate their views.”

Justice Kennedy concluded, “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Earlier this past year the House Democrats got into the act by putting forward the 600-page H.R. 1, dubiously dubbed “For the People Act,” which, along with other things, would require increased disclosure of donors and online advertisers. It is co-sponsored by all three of Nevada’s Democratic representatives — Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford.

Citizens United actually left in place certain financial disclosure requirements under McCain-Feingold. In fact, this prompted Justice Clarence Thomas to write a dissent in which he observed that disclosure requirements have spawned a cottage industry that uses donor information to intimidate, retaliate, threaten and boycott individuals and businesses with whom they disagree.

Thomas wrote, “The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. … Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’”

The Founders frequently engaged in anonymous speech and protected it with the First Amendment. The Federalist Papers were penned under pseudonyms.

It’s not just the Democrats in Washington who want to gag free speech. In 2017 the Democrats in Carson City horned in on the act, pushing Senate Joint Resolution 4, urging Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. It was sponsored by Las Vegas Democratic state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro.

The summary of SJR4 read: “Urges Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution to allow the reasonable regulation of political contributions and expenditures by corporations, unions and individuals to protect the integrity of elections and the equal right of all Americans to effective representation.”

It may as well have read: “Democracy is dead because the citizens of the United States are too stupid to hear vigorous debate and make rational decisions.”

The resolution passed both the Assembly and state Senate with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against.

The fight for free speech never ends.




9 comments on “Happy anniversary, Citizens United: May free speech still ring free across the land

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love that First Amendment.

    Free Speech, Freedom of The Press. I remember some time ago the clarion call was raised around here about those things and how heinous the lefties were when they tried to “pen” some rugged individualists up when the Feds tried to round up super patriot Clivin Bundys cattle in some Free Speech zone of all things.

    Boy did that rile up some folks around here and given the principles we all hold so dear I’m guessing it’s a mere oversight that we’ve not seen a similar condemnation of the efforts of some republicans to pen up the press during the impeachment hearings and that now it’s out in the open, the patriots that responded so vehemently to the travesty in Bundyland, will rouse themselves once again in defense of the free press and the Americans peoples rights to not only have justice done, but to be able to see justice done.

    I sure hope we’re all treated to the same condemnation of the actors in this case as we were when the actors were…well, not the current ones.


  2. Bill says:

    It will be interesting to see if the proponents of limiting speech and restricting ‘money’ in political campaigns and all those who passed SJR 4 will become motivated to speak out against Democrat Presidential candidate Bloomberg who has reportedly been quoted by the New York Times, that he and/or his businesses would spend $1 billion to defeat President Trump. Anyone want to place a bet?

  3. Rincon says:

    In some ways, Citizens United doesn’t matter, except that it’s a symptom of our declining morality.
    As Boss Tweed said, ” I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.”
    While having a 14% approval rating, the Congressional reelection rate is over 95%. Hard to reconcile those figures, isn’t it? Only for a Conservative. To me, the reasons are crystal clear.

    With or without Citizens United, politics is a money game. The rich run the country and always have. The difference today is that their (and our) morality has changed

    For example, Henry Ford doubled all of his employees’ pay over a weekend. His maximum inflation adjusted net worth: $1.7 billion. https://www.lovemoney.com/gallerylist/87193/the-roaring-1920s-richest-people-and-how-they-made-their-money Today, he wouldn’t make the top 100 Americans.

    Have you heard of ANY billionaire today doubling the wages of their workers? Of course not! As a matter of fact, until pressured to raise wages to a more reasonable level, the Walton family, worth $140 billion or so, was famous for paying their workers poorly, and according to the Washington Post, as of the 3rd generation, they have donated a whole 0.4% of their net worth to their family foundation as of 2016 based on 23 years of tax returns. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/06/17/dont-tell-rich-folks-what-to-do-with-their-money/ These are some truly sick people.

    Similarly, you have heard me complain that drug companies today routinely gouge us for even 40 year old generic drugs, but historically, the makers of history’s greatest drugs sold them at a reasonable price, and still got rich. Gouging and financial hoarding has become the norm, to the applause of Conservatives.

    There was a time when people who lied or cheated such as Gary Hart and John Kerry (although it appears that the allegations against Kerry were inflated)were often rejected by both voters and the parties. Today, our Liar in Chief and serial adulterer is rabidly supported by Conservatives, the very people who claim that government is not to be trusted (I’ll avoid discussing his, at best, highly questionable behavior in office). These same Conservatives lionize him and the other sick people who hoard massive amounts of money.

    Our Conservative Supreme Court somehow couldn’t find a Constitutional justification to allow the discouragement of gerrymandering, as if we need a document to specifically instruct us to disallow cheating in elections. I wonder, have we ever decided to honor the election of any third world kleptocrats because their form of election cheating was not specifically forbidden in their constitution? Go ahead. Find me a case. Truly a double standard.

    I cannot imagine how any of you can sleep at night knowing that you not only excuse, but encourage this continuing ethical degradation.

  4. Bill says:

    Rincon, Politicians with questionable “morals” and who lie are historically not the exclusive province of Democrats or Republicans or Conservatives or Liberals. Historically they seem to occur with equal frequency in across all political spectrums. Was John F. Kennedy a greater and more deceptive promiscuous lying politician than the one that you disdainfully call our “Liar in Chief”? Doubtful from both a quality and quantity basis.

    Businesses and Conservatives are not the only ones motivated by greed. It is regrettably a human trait that does not depend upon the size or wealth of those exhibiting it.

    I do somewhat distrust government. You must admit, as a fair person, that the history of human rights history of most governments has not been good.

    Finally, as a personal observation, I don’t worry so much about the rich becoming politicians as I do about politicians becoming rich. Just as an observation, and perhaps as a question to ask yourself, how did the Clintons, Obamas, Bidens and Harry Reid become so wealthy as public servants?

    By the way, have you been to San Francisco lately?

  5. Anonymous says:

    An opportunity missed is an opportunity missed. Hopefully Thomas you’re composing another brilliant skewering of the people most responsible for interfering with the First Amendment today. You are a true master when it comes to calling out those folks when it happens and I can’t WAIT, to see the skewering those reprobates in the Senate are in for at your hands in the coming days.

    I mean if we get to bear constant witness to efforts by the BLM in Nevada to deny citizens their First Amendment rights surely the efforts by the federal government and the United States Senate to deny the American press access to one of the most important events in this country’s history will not go without comment on these pages. Of that I am sure.

    “Reporters have been kept in pens in the Capitol’s Ohio Clock corridor and Reception Room, allowing senators to exit the Senate chamber for meeting rooms or private offices without speaking to reporters during the impeachment trial.

    A magnetometer has also been added to the Senate’s Daily Press Gallery to ensure that reporters aren’t bringing phones or recorders into the Senate chamber and the Senate sergeant-at-arms has authorized a heavy police presence in the nearby hallways.

    Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not consult him about the restrictions. However, a Senate source told The Hill that “everyone was made aware ahead of time as to what the plan would be.”

    These fascists are trying to prevent America from know what is happening, trying to prevent reporters from recording the events, and even controlling the camera angles of the CSPAN cameras allowed in the chamber.

    Get em Thomas!


  6. Steve says:

    Y’know how I could tell Barack Obama was lying?

    Listen to his responses to questions.

    Inevitably, there were pauses between words and sentences as he thought up things he figured were least likely to come back and bite him in the ass. He got better at it over his two terms.
    First couple of months, he got bit by not lying.

    Politician lie, they have to lie. Some are better at it than others. The current liar in chief is simply, bluntly, brazen about it. He even totally admits it’s what he does at every opening confrontation or new negotiation.

    Here’s a good one. The wall. HE insists only a solid wall is acceptable. But they are building a really strong electronic version…he’s great at bait and switch too.

    Almost have to admire it, from a distance.

  7. Rincon says:

    Tell me Bill, would your argument sway you if you were a juror in a murder trial, and the defense lawyer says, “Listen, my client may have murdered someone, but hey, there are thousands of murderers, many who have killed far more people than my client. Give him a break, because so many others do the same thing.”?

    As my first grade teacher told me, Others may have done it, but you’re the one that got caught, so you have to pay the price. I learned it in the first grade, but Republicans still haven’t caught on.

    As for San Francisco, It astounds me that you can support the Trump economy, where the rich garner a completely disproportionate share of the GDP, but so sensitive to those poor folks in California, a state with a greater GDP than all but three countries. The unemployment rate was 2.0 percent in San Francisco County, and 1.8 percent in San Mateo County in 2018. As with our national economy, unemployment is quite low. It’s just that so many of those jobs pay diddly squat.

    The homelessness issue in California is due primarily to astronomical real estate values. Median rent in that city is 3,700 per month – 44,000/year. Unfortunately for them, most other states are less generous with their poor than California (third most generous benefits in the nation), so many of the homeless refuse to leave for meaner states, especially those with cold winters or hot summers.

  8. Rincon says:

    BTW, for those like Thomas, who insists that the rich and powerful are throwing their money away by contributing to campaign coffers, and that politicians would be just as electable without all that spending, Tom Steyer made it to the Democratic debates by doing well in South Carolina and Nevada. He outspent every other candidate in those two states. Must be a coincidence, right?

  9. […] Happy anniversary, Citizens United: May free speech still ring free across the land Ten years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the free speech portion of the First Amendment, declaring in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that a federal law prohibiting people from spending their own money to make their political opinions and desires known could not pass constitutional muster. The decision has been under constant attack by Democrats ever since. […]

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